Minnesota’s 911 manager in Virginia? Investigation prompts calls for change to state remote work policy.

Minnesota’s 911 manager in Virginia? Investigation prompts calls for change to state remote work policy.

Minnesota’s 911 manager in Virginia? Investigation prompts calls for change to state remote work policy.

Two emergency communications managers with the State of Minnesota have left their leadership positions at the Department of Public Safety (DPS) after 5 INVESTIGATES raised questions about a telework agreement that allowed one of them to work full-time from the East Coast.

Sandi Stroud quit her six-figure job as Minnesota’s 911 Program Manager last week, eight months after moving to Virginia Beach.

Stroud is not accused of violating any state policies because her plan to work more than 1,300 miles from the office was approved by Dana Wahlberg, former director of Minnesota’s Emergency Communication Networks, a division of DPS. 

Wahlberg announced her retirement in March, as other leaders raised questions about her decision to approve Stroud’s telework agreement. 

Neither woman agreed to interview requests from 5 INVESTIGATES, but some state and local leaders say the arrangement raises larger questions about where and when state employees should be allowed to work remotely outside of Minnesota. 

‘Inappropriate’ text messages

Three days after 5 INVESTIGATES filed a formal request for Stroud’s telework agreement in January, an assistant commissioner at DPS asked Wahlberg for more information about “what approvals were sought,” according to emails obtained through the Minnesota Data Practices Act.

Wahlberg defended her decision to allow Stroud to coordinate Minnesota’s statewide 911 programs from Virginia.

“Honestly, I cannot think of any situation that would require her to be anywhere ‘on short notice,'” Wahlberg wrote in an email to T. John Cunningham, the assistant commissioner overseeing emergency services at DPS.  

Wahlberg dismissed the inquiries from 5 INVESTIGATES saying, “I don’t see any ‘story’ in this data request.” But at the same time, text messages between her and Stroud show the two were focused on trying to figure out who might have leaked the information about Stroud working from Virginia. 

“I found out that my living in VA has been a gossip item being discussed between Metro PSAP’s (public service answering points),” Stroud wrote. 

Wahlberg suggested it could be the state’s partners at the Metropolitan Emergency Services Board (MESB), calling the female leadership “sneaky b*****s.”

When Stroud incorrectly guessed the information could have come from MESB Chair Trista Martinson, Wahlberg replied, “She would be a very likely choice… She’s a b**** on steroids!”

DPS leadership declined multiple interview requests, but a spokesperson called some of the language in the text messages “inappropriate” and said it “falls short of the standards of respect and professionalism” expected from employees of the state agency.

Not ‘can you,’ but ‘should you?’

Martinson brushed off the name-calling by Wahlberg when 5 INVESTIGATES showed her the text messages.

“It’s not surprising. I’ve been called worse by finer people,” Martinson said. 

Although Martinson was not the source who tipped off 5 INVESTIGATES, she confirms she had heard concerns about Stroud’s move to Virginia and described a previous “lack of professionalism” shown by Stroud and Wahlberg to their partners in local and state government. 

“Our job is to ask hard questions and hold people accountable,” Martinson said. “And not everyone likes that.”

Martinson, who also chairs the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners, said Stroud’s unusual work from home arrangement was likely not a threat to public safety, but also said it raises larger questions about how public employees serve taxpayers at all levels of government. 

“At what point do we need to come back together to have eyes on to say, ‘Are we missing something?’ Martinson said. “I think that’s the difference. It’s not ‘can you,’ but ‘should you?'”

Calls for new policy

The policy question about state employees living and working outside of Minnesota is one that Sen. Mark Koran (R-North Branch) has been asking since 2017 when he learned someone with the Department of Natural Resources was doing that job from California. 

“As a Minnesota employee, do you not even have the basic skin in the game that you’re a resident, a tax-paying resident in the state?” said Koran. “That’s, to me, a problem.”

Every year since then, Koran says his office has been asking Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB) for a breakdown of all state employees living outside of Minnesota. 

In 2022, MMB identified 1,159 employees living outside the state of Minnesota.

A majority of those employees were in Wisconsin, but updated data for 2023 shows 82 workers living in states that do not border Minnesota. 

That number included Stroud who kept her title as 911 Program Manager and Deputy Statewide Interoperability Coordinator for Minnesota after moving to Virginia last August. 

“Like every other city in Minnesota, emergency services personnel typically have to live within an hour of proximity for that very purpose,” Koran said. “So why would it not apply here to a job that covers the entire State?”

Minnesota does not have a specific state policy that would have prohibited Stroud or any other state employee from living in a non-border state, but other states do. 

The Iowa Department of Public Safety’s telework policy states that remote employees “must be able to report to work within one hour of notification.”

“I’m not laying down”

When leaders at DPS first questioned the decision to allow their 911 program manager to telework from Virginia, records show Wahlberg emailed Stroud the same day.

“We need to chat about this,” Wahlberg wrote. “Maybe this is a ploy to get rid of me.”

Wahlberg announced her retirement weeks later. 

During the same time period, Stroud was defiant and said she had involved her union to fight any proposed changes to her telework agreement. 

“If they contact HR they are coming in guns blazing,” Stroud wrote in a text to Wahlberg. “I’m not laying down.”

Despite that statement, Stroud later announced her plans to quit working for the state of Minnesota in an email to coworkers last month. 

“My decision to move on to a new season of my career has not been an easy one,” Stroud wrote. 

A DPS spokesperson confirms Stroud no longer works for the agency.